Diurnal cloud and thermodynamic variations in the stratocumulus transition regime: A case study using in situ and remote sensors

Mark A. Miller, Michael P. Jensen, Eugene E. Clothiaux

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Radiosonde, in situ, and surface-based remote sensor data from the Atlantic Stratocumulus Transition Experiment are used to study the diurnal cycle of cloud and thermodynamic structure. A cloud layer and decoupled subcloud layer separated by a stable transition layer, often observed in the vicinity of cumulus cloud base, characterizes the thermodynamic structure during the study period. The mode of cloud structure is cumulus with bases below decoupled stratus. Data are presented that support the hypothesis that diurnal variations in cumulus development are modulated by the stability in the transition layer. The frequency of cumulus convection decreases during the afternoon, but mesoscale regions of vigorous cumulus with cloud tops overshooting the base of the trade inversion and increased surface drizzle rates are present during the late afternoon and early evening, when the transition layer is the most stable. It is postulated that mesoscale organization may be required to accumulate enough water vapor in the subcloud layer to produce the convective available potential energy needed for developing cumulus to overcome transition layer stability. The mesoscale regions appear to fit the description of cyclic cumulus convection proposed in a previous study, and this theory is expanded to account for diurnal variations in the stability of the transition layer. The occurrence of these mesoscale clusters of vigorous convection makes it difficult to determine if the latent heat flux in the cloud layer has actually decreased in the late afternoon and early evening, when the transition layer is the most stable. Liquid water structure was examined and no pronounced diurnal signal was found. Results showed that clouds thicker than approximately 450 m tended to have subadiabatic integrated liquid water contents, presumably due to evaporation of drizzle in the subcloud layer, removal of liquid water at the surface, and the evaporation of cloud water at cloud top. A significant fraction of clouds less than 450 m thick produced liquid water contents that were greater than adiabatic, and there may be a physical mechanism that could produce such values in this cloud system (i.e., lateral detrainment of cloud water from convective elements mixing with existing liquid water in decoupled stratus or with liquid water detrained by nearby convective elements). Unfortunately, instrument limitations may have also produced these greater-than-adiabatic values and the extent of instrument artifacts in these results is unclear.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2294-2310
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number13
StatePublished - Jul 1 1998


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science

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